IT’S been almost two centuries since the devil’s violinist came to town

In late August 1832, Niccolò Paganini gave two concerts at the then fashionable Long Rooms in Southampton.

Paganini was an Italian violinist and composer, the most celebrated violin virtuoso of his time. The report of his appearances states that nearly a thousand people came to listen to him play.

In about 1740, a spring was discovered to the north-west of the Bargate, near modern-day Portland Terrace. Consequently, from 1750 until about 1830, Southampton became a fashionable Spa Town.

Although it never reached the heights of other spa towns, like Bath or Bognor, it became popular with the Western Esplanade the fashionable centre of town.

A local man, John Martin, built the Long Rooms opposite the west end of Simnel Street in 1761. With the influx of visitors, the local hotels flourished, particularly the Dolphin which became the venue for winter assemblies.

The Long Rooms suffered great competition from the Royal Gloucester Baths built on the Platform in the 1820s, and then from the Royal Victoria Assembly Rooms built on Portland Terrace in 1830.

Lymington born Philip Klitz conducted Paganini at the Southampton concerts.

Klitz was also a brilliant performer, composer and one-time organist of St Lawrence and St Joseph Churches in Southampton. From 1845 to his death he was organist at All Saints' Church, near the Bargate.

Klitz was a Freemason, his composition Faith, Hope, and Charity, is still used by some Hampshire Lodges.

Paganini was known for his, very difficult to play, Caprices for Solo Violin. The theme music for the South Bank Show on ITV written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and played by his brother Julian was based on Paganini’s 24th Caprice.

Paganini was such a gifted violinist, perhaps the greatest of all time, some thought he had sold his soul to the devil. The violin was regarded by some as the devil's instrument, so it's not surprising that rumours circulated about a deal with the devil. At a concert in Vienna one audience member said they thought they had seen the Devil helping Paganini play. It was even said that the Devil once made lightning strike the end of Paganini’s bow during a performance.

His fame slowly turned him into a serial womaniser, heavy gambler and drinker. A rumour even spread that he had murdered a woman, used her intestines as violin strings and imprisoned her soul within the instrument. Some said they could hear a female crying out when he played.

Paganini was one of the first violinists to perform publicly without sheet music, choosing to memorise everything.

He helped popularise certain string techniques such as bow bounces. It is said he could play 12 notes per second – a feat later achieved by violinist David Garrett, who played Paganini in the 2013 film The Devil’s Violinist.

Dressed in black, Paganini had very long, thin fingers which could span three octaves. This may have been due to a genetic disorder called Marfan Syndrome. He flailed about on stage, earning him the nickname ‘Rubber Man’.

Paganini was sickly for much of his later life. He had contracted syphilis in 1822, which was treated with mercury and in 1834, he caught tuberculosis.

Later that year, he found himself getting weaker and decided to retire to spend his last years teaching the violin.

Before his death in Nice, he turned away a priest offering him last rites and the local church refused to bury his body on consecrated ground.

His body stayed in the house cellar for a year.

Over the next four years, his corpse was transported on an extraordinary tour of Europe.

Four years after his death, Pope Gregory XVI allowed his body to be transported back to Italy for burial.

The Long Rooms where Paganini performed were refurbished in 1829 in an attempt to stave off competition, but their popularity declined and they were demolished in the late 19th century.

By Martin Brisland - tour guide with